August 8, 2016

5 Mistakes That I Have Made with Curriculum {5 Days of Homeschool 101}

This fall will kick off our SIXTH year of homeschooling as we begin 5th grade and 1st grade with the boys. I cannot believe it's already been that long since we bravely (yet a bit anxiously) entered the world of homeschooling. I have learned so much over the last years and I continue to learn new things with every year forward. One of the areas where I have probably learned the most is in the world of homeschool curriculum. Today I am going to share a bit of a confessional in regards to my adventures in curriculum.
Five Mistakes I've Made with Curriculum~ 5 Days of Homeschool 101 Blog Hop

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There are so many things that you learn as a homeschool mom, and one of the most important is in regards to curriculum. If you have ever tried to "look" at different programs, you will realize how VAST and numerous the selections for curriculum truly are. If you are like me, you will also find yourself making a lot of whoopsie's in regards to curriculum. So I wanted to give you the top five mistakes that I've made regarding curriculum for our homeschool.

#1 Chasing After the Shiny and New

I won't lie. When I go to the homeschool conventions every year, 95% of the time it is to see all the new things that are out there. I LOVE new and shiny things. I especially love new and shiny curriculum! And I have BOUGHT a lot of new and shiny curriculum most on an impulse buy--when I should have just left it alone. 

I have learned a few things about myself in the last year. First, I stray from what works for us a lot. This is where that shiny and new comes in. I find something that works and we stick with it--until someone waves a new something shiny in front of my eyes, and I start questioning the success of what we have now. Sometimes I go for that lure--only to find that it wasn't what I thought, or was actually already like what we had. Then I am left with a hole in my budget, and curriculum on hand that I didn't really need, and a discovery that what we had worked perfectly fine. This is the EASIEST to do in the elementary years--there is just so much fabulous stuff out there calling your name!
This is what happens when you go for things you want...rather than what you really need!
A lot of the lure of shiny and new is related to our belief that there must be something that will work even BETTER than what we have. And we fail to examine the strengths of the programs we already have that are working. Much of this is done when we start comparing what we are doing to what another mom is doing--but that falls into a whole other mistake called the Comparison Trap--a subject for another day (and one I've already blogged about!

Now don't get me wrong, there ARE times when shiny and new is a good thing...just don't follow that lure too much, or you will end up with a crate full of curriculum you aren't going to be using.

#2 More Curriculum Is Always Better

I have discovered over the last 6 years that I have the tendency to make things complicated for myself. I want to have all the subjects covered--and pick curriculum for EACH AND EVERY subject, and then I'm left with two crates FULL of curriculum books, and me trying to cram it all into my lesson planning. I have learned that for me, finding curriculum that combines subjects truly is the way to go. Don't underestimate the value of just having a core with minimal add-ons. 

One way that this can be done is by making literature your core, and building everything else around it. There are great curriculum companies like Home School In the Woods, Hewitt Homeschooling, Sonlight, YWAM Publishing, Five In A Row, Progeny Press, and Moving Beyond the Page (to name just a few) that center your studies around literature and pull in other subjects. These companies have done the "hard" work for you! They provide resource lists and ways to take your literature into a different subject. This keeps it simple for you the parent!
YWAM Publishing provides you the chance to use ONE book and center your learning around it. 
It is this mistake which has led us to the new direction I am hoping to take for the 2016-2017 school year. I realized that I was making things too difficult for us by having so many different curriculum for different subjects. More was just more. So we are (I am) going to try to simplify our year this year by going back to a core and then simply adding on anything extra--which should only be 2 subjects or so.

We get caught in the trap of having to have elaborate lesson plans for each subject, and while that might work for some, I just can't keep up with it and then I end up feeling like we didn't FINISH anything, just chased after a lot of subjects. So keep it simple!

#3 Keep Using a Curriculum that Isn't Working

Oh man. This mistake was so big, that I wrote another whole post about it (Read my What Do you Do when Your Curriculum Isn't Working? post). It is so hard as a teacher to admit that something isn't working. I guess I feel like I screwed up by picking it. Or maybe I think if I had taught it better things would change. But, I have learned more than once, that if you are beating your head on the wall because your child isn't "getting it", or your child is breaking down into tears CONSTANTLY...the problem is probably the CURRICULUM. NOT you, NOT your teaching skills, NOT your child. It is in this mistake that we forget one of the #1 reasons many of us choose to homeschool---to fit the program to your child and change it if it isn't working.

Why do we forget this basic freedom that we have? I say that 98% of the time it's because we "spent $$$ on this, and I don't want to waste my money". Really? Are you putting the $$ you spent over helping your child find what works for them?

I am guilty of it.

I had to change curriculum three times with my oldest (Math, Spelling, Writing) and once with my youngest. The change I made was a BIG cost when I did it with my youngest. I had purchased a whole curriculum, only to turn around and have to purchase another one. But it was 100% worth it!

Don't be like me and spend 15 weeks on a curriculum that clearly isn't working...just because you don't want to "waste your money".

#4 Be a Slave To Your Curriculum

One of my friends told me in regards to her biggest mistake about curriculum, "Letting the curriculum be the master, not the servant. Forgetting that it is just a tool. I don't have to check all the boxes or even use it in the way it is presented." This is one of the biggest mistakes that we make. Sometimes we forget that curriculum IS just a tool for us. The teacher's guides frequently give us lesson plans, sometimes even daily schedules, and it is SO easy to get caught up in meeting that schedule...only discovering that it just doesn't work for your family. And instead of remembering that YOU are in control, you try to force it, or shove it into your lesson planning and then you get stressed when you can't meet the SUGGESTED lesson plan.


Oh man. This is a mistake I STILL find myself making even entering my 6th year of homeschooling! I am learning to take the suggested lesson plan WITH A GRAIN OF SALT! In fact, I LOVE the teacher's guides which remind us that their plan is merely a SUGGESTION and that every family will have their own method that works.

When I was at the homeschool convention, I overheard a lady telling her friend "It's a GREAT program and I just love what they offer, but it's FIVE DAYS A WEEK and so intensive. I just can't keep up with that kind of routine."

Do you hear the problem in that? Who was in charge? The curriculum or the teacher? Was the schedule provided in the teachers manual a 5 day a week schedule? Yes. Did she HAVE to do it 5 days a week? NO! In fact, we are going to be using that very company she was talking about, and while it's a 5 day a week lesson plan, I AM CHANGING IT TO FIT OUR ROUTINE. Will it take us longer to go through the program? Yes. Does it matter? NO!

Please don't get stuck in this trap! Don't miss out on great curriculum because you think it HAS to be done a certain way. And don't overwhelm yourself trying to match the suggested lesson plan schedule if it doesn't work for you!

Remember--YOU are the master, not the curriculum!

#5 Don't Keep A Record of What Digital Curriculum You Already Own or Online Subscriptions You Have

Friends--digital products are the BOMB when it comes to homeschooling. They don't take up ANY space and are FREE or seriously reduced in cost. Sometimes you can get pdf versions of print products for at least 50% the price! Many companies now send free pdf additions when you purchase their products--I know that Institute for Excellence in Writing does. I have taken advantage of so many 10 for $10 sales, or joined into the Pay What You Want sales from delightful companies like, or grabbed freebies from Let's not forget the super duper fabulousness of where EVERYTHING is digital.

So now that you have just downloaded all of that marvelous material, eager to use it with your students--what did you do to remember what you just got? Did you write it down? Did you print off a cover page? How will you know what awesome curriculum you have for later--when it's not there on your bookshelf to peruse?

You won't. I don't.

Nope, I am NOTORIOUS for getting all of this and then forgetting what I just had! I spent a long time the first summer before we started homeschooling, taking advantage of so many free and cheap printables. I got them to save for K-6th! But I failed to keep record of what I had purchased. They just disappeared onto my flashdrive, never to be seen again--rendering them complete null and void when I could have used them for different units and projects that came around.
If only these could talk and tell me what is on them...
Earlier this year, I went through every thing I had saved on my flashdrive, and not only deleted things that I really don't want now, but I categorized everything by subject and then grade. AND...I WROTE IT DOWN! Yep, I now have a 3x5 card file of what is in each of those folders on my flashdrive. If I am looking for a certain something, i can quickly flip through my directory to see if I already own something that will work. I wish I had done this when I began collecting digital products, so that I would have been able to use some of the awesome things I had saved.

Another area where I am dreadful about keeping track, are my online subscriptions. I have online subscriptions for science, math, history, bible, teacher resource websites, and more...but do I remember I HAVE these? Or remember what my username and passwords are for them? Um. Not always. And so then I lose my chance at using the fabulous websites--simply because I don't have them recorded for easy visibility. So make sure you jot down, not just the website, but your username, password, and subscription length so you can take advantage of them!

Because I really want you to remember to do this so you don't make MY mistake, I have already created a super simple form for you to log down those very things!

Click here to download my Online Website Record so you won't forget your information again!

So remember--if you purchase something online, or download something online, make SURE you keep a record of what it is. I have started downloading any cover pages, or table of contents and putting them into a binder for reference as WELL as noting it on my 3 x 5 cards. This goes with any new websites you find, subscriptions you purchase--even the TRIAL ones, or teacher resources. Don't forget you have them! Don't lose the log in information!

I hope that by sharing these five mistakes I have made about homeschool curriculum, will help you AVOID making the same mistakes. If I can save you from making even ONE of them, I will feel like I have helped you out! 

5 Days of Homeschool 101
Today was the first day in our 5 Days of Homeschool 101 Blog Hop for the Schoolhouse Review Crew! Today the focus was all about curriculum--so make sure you go and visit the posts of other contributors to our fabulous hop today! Stay tuned the rest of the week as we dive into four other aspects of basic homeschooling stuff.

Here is my list of all the posts for this week:

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